A panel chooses 25 local musicians and puts their names in a random drawing of five individual groups. Then those groups meet for 12 hours on a chosen day to create a band and prepare three to five songs, only one of which can be a cover.
This year’s Rock Lottery on Saturday, Nov. 19, may be similar in form, but the event always produces surprises. A violin player can get matched with a metal group. An accordion player could join forces with a reggae band. A punk group might have to work a gospel singer into the set.
“It really brings musicians and audience members from different tastes together,” says Stefanie Lazcano, one of the organizers of this year’s Rock Lottery and a past participant. “You have people that play in folk and country bands coming together with people playing in metal bands.”
The random collaboration ends with a live show at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton in which each band performs its original songs to a crowd that has no idea what to expect.
“Honestly, to them, it’s a chance for them to do anything they want,” says Chuck Crosswhite, the director of the Denton Rock Lottery, who’s been involved with the event for the past decade. “They’re not beholden to a sound or a genre they’ve ever played before. It’s time to go out there and have one night to live out an experience of different musical energies that you’re probably not performing in your regular gig life.”
Artist Chris Weber and his Good/Bad Art Collective created the first Denton Rock Lottery in 1997 as an experimental art piece. Weber’s idea for a random rock show expanded to Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Seattle, the last of which is Weber’s stomping ground.
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“They were doing experimental art and many of their art was live art, performance based or dealt with living space,” Crosswhite says. “This is very much in line with what Good/Bad was doing at the time, a live performance base filled with music and one-night-only showings.”
The journey to random rock stardom starts in the morning when the bands are announced, followed by a nourishing, note-fueling breakfast. The teams break off and start forming a band name and motif and pounding out ideas for songs through lunch until their scheduled show that night.
The Rock Lottery attracts musicians from a wide variety of tastes and talents — groups like the party polka band Brave Combo, the Denton doll pop group Lorelei K and the post-punk group Hen and the Cocks. This year’s crop of crooners includes people from Mother Tongues, Spiderweb Salon, Starparty and Inferno Texino.
The combinations can produce some interesting sounds using some unusual instrumentation.
“People are doing tap dances as percussion instruments to someone playing another person’s buttocks on a massage table on stage,” Crosswhite says. “They had a microphone on a pair of butt cheeks and played them like they were bongos.”
Twelve hours of writing and rehearsing can get grueling, but having a stage to perform it on at the end of the session can be a great motivator.
“At first, it’s kind of intimidating because you see all these names of other people you’ve never played with before and you’re not sure how your styles are gonna mix,” Lazcano says. “I feel like once you finally get in the jam space and start playing music, it’s not as hard as people think it is at the beginning when it comes to hashing out songs. It turned into a full day of, I don’t know, magic.”
The Rock Lottery also keeps driving another tradition for Denton that seems to have gone by the wayside in the absence of art groups like Good/Bad.
“It’s to keep one-night-only live performance art alive and that ethos of the Good/Bad Art Collective going in the time of Denton,” Crosswhite says. “I think it’s important because it started in Denton and it’s important to keep that spirit alive in that town.”
Denton Rock Lottery takes place at Dan’s Silver Leaf, 103 Industrial St., Denton. Early birds can pay $20 for morning admission beginning at 9:30 a.m., which includes entry for selection ceremony, breakfast and evening admission. Tickets for the evening event only are $15, and doors open at 8:30 p.m. for a 9:30 p.m. show. For more information, visit the Denton Rock Lottery website.